As we enter the last months of President Trump’s term before he exits the role and President-elect Biden takes up the position, speculation over how President Trump might possibly utilize presidential pardon power has been increasing. Since his defeat to President-elect Biden at the beginning of November, President Trump has been criticized for a wide breadth of controversial behavior, including refusing to concede the election, filing a number of generally ill-fated lawsuits, firing high-ranking officials, and propagating thus-far unsubstantiated claims that the election was rigged and fraudulent.
Among these acts was the choice to grant a pardon to his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn served a short stint as national security adviser to Trump in early 2017 before he pled guilty to charges of lying to the FBI, after reportedly misleading White House officials as to the content of his talks with a Russian official. Since then, Flynn provoked critique after he retweeted a release by an organization called We The People that advocated for potentially implementing limited martial law over the election results.
President Trump has been criticized for the nature of many of his presidential pardons, with Lawfare Blog noting that the majority of people who have been pardoned by or who have received commutations from Trump seem to possess some sort of personal or political connection to him.
Flynn is also not the first major pardon of Trump’s that has drawn public attention and backlash. Earlier this year, President Trump granted a commutation to Roger J. Stone for seven felonies. Roger Stone is a friend of the President’s. A statement from the White House at the time characterized Stone’s sentence as “unjust,” describing him as a “victim of the Russia Hoax” propagated by “the Left and its allies.”
President Trump has also, in the past, expressed an interest in his right to self-pardon. In 2018, he tweeted: “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong? In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!”
There is currently no clear legal consensus on whether or not a President can grant themself a presidential pardon.
More recently, reports have arisen that President Trump has discussed granting “pre-emptive pardons” to his children Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump. Also under consideration for such pardons are Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, and President Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who has been helping spearhead many of President Trump’s election-related lawsuits.
Recently released court records also suggest that the Justice Department is currently investigating a potential “bribery for pardon” scheme, though the 20 page document, which is heavily redacted, does not currently disclose any times or names related to this alleged scheme.
President Trump issued a brief reply to the news on Twitter, writing: “Pardon investigation is Fake News!”